How does a worker who is visually impaired keep up?
Recently, the company where I work completed a merger combining five operating companies under one umbrella. Each company had its own methods for handling situations, and specific databases for customer information. Following the merger, we’ve started combining computer and telephone systems to increase efficiency and productivity. Although change is never easy for any employee, new technology poses significant challenges for an employee who is visually impaired. Below, I’ll summarize how I try to prepare for these changes.
Whether I am in the cafeteria, riding the company shuttle bus, or walking around the office, I am constantly gathering information from people about changes to technology or the phone system which could impact me. Since I am the only visually impaired employee, I am worried that people may forget to consider my specific needs when a product is introduced. For example, a new phone system is being installed. A colleague told me about the phones and that a light flashes on the phone when a voice mail is waiting. I promptly found out the name of the person overseeing the phone project, and asked if the phone could beep for me when a voice mail has been received. After a few days, I learned that this accommodation could be implemented. By being proactive, I was able to ensure the transition to the new phones will go smoother.
Collaborate with Others
Technology is constantly changing, and assistive technology products are unable to be upgraded quick enough to handle the various programming languages. I recently learned that employee’s pay stubs and the staff directory will be accessed online. The web-based program does not include text labels for some of the links, so navigating the site by an individual who is visually impaired is virtually impossible. Upon realizing this quandary, I notified human resources who notified the manufacturer, but they have not helped. My employer hired an assistive technology consultant to review the product, and determine if scripts can be written to increase the usability. As of now, a final answer regarding the usability of this product by an employee who is blind is not known.
For several years, technology was increasing opportunities for people with visual impairments. However, I am now seeing an unfortunate shift in this trait. I have been unable to accept three recent promotions as databases could not be made accessible. It is disheartening when a job candidate is repeatedly told that you have exemplary skills, but technology, which is out of the candidate’s control, is holding you back from a promotion. It is my hope that database manufacturers will consider users with visual impairments when developing or upgrading their products in the future.